On July 25, the Delhi police filed a 300-page chargesheet against the late Hansie Cronje and a collection of bookmakers from around the 13-year-old match-fixing scandal. It was accompanied by protests from Cronje's family and much sniggering from various quarters about the sloth-like speed of the Indian legal process.
Five days later, the Delhi police have taken what could be an unprecedented step in the legal process pertaining to sports gambling in India. It is nothing remotely similar to the 300-page chargesheet filed against a deceased man and absconding artful dodgers.
The Delhi Police's 6000-page chargesheet on the IPL spot-fixing scandal filed on Tuesday is an indication of the distance travelled between 2000 and 2013 by law enforcement around cricket, cricketers, betting and bookies. Delhi police's chargesheet names 39 people, including three cricketers, two of India's most wanted gangsters, and a bunch of bookmakers in jail, under a very tough law pertaining to organised crime. It has taken the Delhi police 74 days (May 16 to July 30) between arresting Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan, and turning their investigation and its pre-trial process into a judicial matter.
Indian law dictates that the court will now study the chargesheet and assess whether there is prima facie evidence to frame charges against the accused. In a high-profile case of this kind, it is extremely unlikely that the requisite legwork required to pass judicial examination would not have been done. The court will then "frame charges" against the 39, turn the case into, "the State versus... ", a process that is expected to take several months before the trial begins.
The Delhi police's work for the moment, though, is done. What has been revelatory in this case is that the police tried to circumvent mistakes and limitations from the time of Cronje & Co. The archaic 1867 Public Gambling Act has been bypassed and the accused have been charged under criminal law. While invoking MCOCA is far too severe for those bowling no-balls for cash, cricketers remain high-profile media magnets, and the mention of MCOCA will surely send a shiver down a few pliable spines.
The cricketers made the headlines but it is the arrests of the bookies, both in Mumbai and Delhi, that have been far weightier. The names of Ramesh Vyas, Ashwini Aggrawal aka Tinku Mandi, and Shobhan Mehta aka Shobhan Kalachowkie, are not those of small timers arrested from tiny cramped rooms in another ho-hum police "sweep".
Vyas, Aggrawal and Mehta are the kind of bookies who work closest to the top of the betting syndicates headed by organised crime. The big bookies may not have the accused Dawood Ibrahim or Chota Shakeel on their speed dials, but could well be on first-name terms with their aides. It is possibly those conversations that started this entire affair. It must also be noted that while the bookies were granted bail from the Mumbai police, MCOCA allowed Delhi to reel them in.
Ever since the 2013 IPL scandal broke open, there has been a drive to introduce a Sporting Fraud Bill under Indian criminal law, with provisions for fines and imprisonments. Until that eventually happens, the Delhi Police chargesheet has drawn up a template for how to pursue India's illegal betting industry, despite hurdles in the law itself. Win or lose, the Delhi police, far from the most admired police force in the country, have certainly played this particular game very well.